Posted September 3, 2009

Brendan centrestage with ECSR.

Manning Bar, Sydney University
Saturday, August 29, 2009


Melbourne does noise better. No argument. Debate over. Sydneysiders used to call the place "Dull City" but Melbourne has it all over us on almost all musical counts. No snide remarks about it being cold and dark and the southerners having nothing better to do. They embrace live rock and roll music in all its forms like no other place in Australia. The rest of us can only be jealous - and be thankful that they exported some of it in a festival package called "Flip Out."

"Flip Out" is in its second year, the first Melbourne event in 2008 being a runaway success and a sell-out in five minutes flat, due in no small part to everybody's indie pin-ups, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, being headliners. Keeping ECSR at the top of line-up, broadening the undercard and bowling up the package to the country's most populous city seemed a logical move and a nice warm-up for the hometown event a week later.

Not every band on the bill for "Flip Out" has a 3000 postcode - there's a sprinkling of Brisbane, Sydney and USA representation too - and nor are they all noise bands, per se. But most share an affinity for extreme volume, tuned-down guitars, downstrokes, dissonance and feedback. Not in that order.

Let's not get too deep here. Thirteen bands, an outdoor barbecue, a record fair and lots of alcohol make for a marathon event. There's also a lot of putting names to faces/online identities with half of Melbourne's music fanbase making the trek north. So if the impressions from here lean toward generalisations, you'll have an idea why.

(Our mate TJ Honeysuckle said he would have been into doing a guest spot as a reviewer, but he was last seen catching shut-eye on a reception area couch. As he said between sips, touring's a tough job but someone has to do it.)

Let's say up front that the organisation of the event was first class. Two stages made for quick changeovers. The production on the main one dominated the side-stage, but that's unavoidable.

If there was a substantive criticism it was a lack of variety. Music of the kind played by two-thirds of the bill relies on something different in-between to lend some relief, however temporary. Don't get me wrong - outdoor festivals mostly suck - but the chance to move around and hear something contrasting is one plus. You can only be hit over the head with a blunt instrument so many times before you pass out, or order another drink. Maybe TJ had the right idea with that couch.

Getting some Goodnight Loving.

Top of the tree for mine were Goodnight Loving, the rustic punk Milwaukee powerhouse with acidic country twang that's been touring Australia for local label Off The Hip. I'm biased sat their self-titled album's been hanging around the CD player for months and is one of the best things to grace the I-94 Bar this year.

Goodnight Loving don't dress their music in affectations or make concessions to style; they just deliver a killer set of hi-kinetic tunes. The only pause for breath is to swap instruments. One of their best songs, "Mad Is The Man", is curiously (and criminally) absent but that's the only thing for which you could mark them down tonight. Shamefully, half the crowd grab a drink or loiter on the balcony for a smoke - which suggests that GNL were too musical for most. Silly people.

The quirky Ooga Boogas are members of ECSR, the Sailors and the Onyas (among other bands) who more than lived up to their album. This is what a Jackson Pollack picture would sound like.

The Ooga Boogas lurch, sway and throb and the jamming, when it comes, is never over-indulgent. Prime example: "On Safari" where the Oogas lock into a monstrous shuffling groove and don't let go till the marrow's sucked right out of the bone. The prominence of keyboards is a surprise tonight. Maybe it's a new direction or a total lack of balance in the stage sound, but the songs are all worth bottling anyway.

James Arthur's Manhunt are wickedly fuzzy and incredibly energetic. Mainman James is a Texan with his band for this tour (I think) a local pick-up job. The media release that accompanied the tour was all about picking up too. I'm not speculating how successful that man-hunt was, but on stage they pushed things into the red on the scale of reverb-and-feedback. What a treat.

Sidestage and Scene of a Stabbing.

The Stabs wre rumoured to be a no-show but that's not the case. Maybe their savage guitar blast would have been better suited to the main stage, but somehow it only slaps me around the ears instead of sinking its boots into my temple and stomping me to a bloody pulp. I like 'em, and I want more. Ditto The UV Race whose '60s roots and chops are undeniably there but I'm probably suffering aural overload by then they sort of pass me by.

Brisbane's Slug Guts nail that Birthday Party thing but it's not really my thing. Nick's been stripped so many times he lost his impact a long time ago around here. Slug Guts strive for, but don't achieve, that barely-controlled rhythmic grind that Cave and Co captured.

Sydney's Naked On The Vague tackle industrial psych at high volume but ultimately plod. US guests Pink Reason's racket goes right over my head. No reason, no rhyme. As for Deaf Wish, I'll reserve judgment on as I didn't see enough of their set but unlike Pink Reason, they seem to have some songs.

ESCR have been to Sydney on only a handful of occasions and have played small rooms, except for a DEVO support last year. They've apparently been rationing themselves on the home front too (which sounds like a recently-departed Minister in the NSW Government.) Of course frontman Brendan Suppression is the focus, a hyperactive and engaging presence who wanders around or scrambles over most of the stage and the PA stack like a speed-crazed praying mantis wearing gloves. But in truth he's only part of a whole.

The crowd loves 'em and more than one Melburnian remarks that's it's great to see ECSR in a room where Extreme Crowd Behaviour that mars many of their hometown gigs isn't part of the regimen.

What ECSR do is hard to define and I don't know how it's going to translate offshore, should the band ever make that move. The taught rhythms, simple songs and murky melodic undercurrent (yes, that's a pun - so kill me) cut through and that's all I can say.

Flip Out Sydney 2010? Here's hoping.